Widely regarded as one of the most architecturally important cities in Europe, Barcelona has a relationship with beautiful design that stretches back for centuries. Its array of gothic masterpieces – such as the breathtaking church of Santa María del Mar – is complemented by a fantastical collection of Modernista (Catalan art nouveau) buildings, including Domènech i Montaner’s Palau de la Música Catalana and Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, La Pedrera and unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Família.
The city's distinctive aesthetic is a definite influence on its inhabitants' view on design in everything from clothing to homeware. Barcelona's style is a mix of classic Mediterranean chic with a little twist of Modernista expressionism, a subtle defiance against conforming to fashion norms. This unique take on personal style and fashion has resulted in Barcelona having some of the coolest multi-brand boutiques and vintage shops in Spain, many concentrated in the Barri Gòtic and El Born areas of the city.
One such is The Box in El Born. A minimalist, industrial-feeling space with bare concrete floors and white walls, the store is something of a secret among local fashion fans keen to keep the treasure trove of up-and-coming independent Barcelona-based designers to themselves. Two of the most prominent of these and Alejandra Anglada, whose draped and structured creations are immediately reminiscent of the city's architecture, and Elena Gallego, who recently impressed at Valencia Fashion Week with a collection of asymmetrical laid-back tailoring in a palette of Mediterranean-inspired brights.
Another designer finding popularity with the city's fashionable residents is Krizia Robustella, who runs her own shop - KR Store, in the Barri Gòtic area - as well as showing at Barcelona Fashion Week. Her latest offering, the Hot Snow Patrol, takes inspiration from winter sports; however, the collection's pastels and brights featured across geometric landscape and skyline graphics are undeniably Barcelonian.
On the more luxurious side of the spectrum of Barcelona's boutiques is La Commercial. Stocking menswear, womenswear, accessories and homeware by international labels such as Kenzo, Missoni and Comme des Garçons, the store also carries several noteworthy local homeware brands. Maná Maná, founded by sisters Maya and Tiyi del Barrio, is one; best known for its range of Neon Lights, it’s a perfect example of witty Spanish innovation resulting in inspired design.
One of the city’s greatest success stories, though, has to be Josep Abril. The Barcelona-born designer, a graduate of the city’s Escola d’Arts i Tècniques de la Moda (EATM), won the first Gaudí Prize for new designers in 1991 before going on to create his eponymous label in 1996. Since then Abril has been clothing some of the best-dressed men in Spain, winning the GQ award for best menswear design in 2004.
Abril has his own theories about how Barcelona’s residents have been influenced by the city itself, and also by those who call it home. ‘I see Barcelona as a cradle of different cultures, maybe because the people of Barcelona are well travelled; we come back full of varied styles, or perhaps because many people from other countries come here to make it their home.’
Abril’s work is all about modern simplicity, with subtle details hinting at a more expressive creative process, a marriage of functionality and abstract expressionism, something he attributes to the two major influences from his home town. ‘The most obvious are from two contrasting places; on the one hand, there is the post art nouveau, avant-garde rationalism which has made us more pragmatic, minimalist and focused on the essentials; on the other hand, the reminders of our history have given us a warmth and sensitivity.’
It may be the city’s artistic heritage and rationalism that influence Abril’s work, but it’s Barcelona’s atmosphere that has kept him here. ‘At first, I thought that it would be better to leave and go to another city such as Paris or Milan, where it is much easier to work as a fashion designer, but the playful, Mediterranean spirit of Barcelona made me stay in the end.’
Whether it’s thanks to the intellectual landscape, the Mediterranean sun and beaches, or the varied architectural history, the people of Barcelona have a style as unique as that of their city.